World View: U.S. Program to Train Syrian Rebels Appears Near Collapse

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The Associated Press

This morning’s key headlines from

  • Hundreds of migrant deaths in Mediterranean highlight Libya-Calais relationship
  • U.S.-trained Free Syrian Army’s Division 30 suffers major defeat
  • US program to train rebels in Syria appears flawed from the start

Hundreds of migrant deaths in Mediterranean highlight Libya-Calais relationship

Migrants in raft rescued from capsized boat on Wednesday (AFP)
Migrants in raft rescued from capsized boat on Wednesday (AFP)

In the latest mass migrant death in the Mediterranean Sea, a boat from Libya with 600-700 migrants capsized just as rescue boats were approaching. Apparently, the migrants became excited by the approaching rescue inflatable boats and all crowded on one side of their ship, causing it to capsize and sink within a couple of minutes.

Most of the deaths were of people who were in the cabin below deck. Traffickers charge migrants a lower “below deck” fare than they charge migrants to remain on deck. However, traveling below deck in a massively overcrowded boat brings a much higher risk of death.

Migrants are crossing the Mediterranean in massive numbers this summer. In a single weekend in June, Italian authorities rescued 5,800 migrants. The total number to have arrived by boat from Libya into Italy and France is over 100,000 so far this year.

In the meantime, the migrant crisis in Calais, France is continuing unabated. ( “31-Jul-15 World View — ‘Swarm’ of migrants causing crisis at Eurotunnel from France to Britain”)

There are now some 5,000 migrants camping out in the migrant camp known as “The Jungle” on the outskirts of Calais, which is near the entrance to the Eurotunnel that connects France to Britain through the English Channel.

It is believed that many of the 5,000 migrants around Calais were among the 100,000 that crossed the Mediterranean to Italy and Greece. It is suspected that authorities in France and Italy, wanting to get rid of the problem, actively encouraged the migrants to go north to Britain.

Illegal migrants may try to make their homes in any of the European countries, but Britain is a favorite destination because of liberal welfare and medical services policies, and because they prefer an English-speaking country. Irish Times and Telegraph (London)

U.S.-trained Free Syrian Army’s Division 30 suffers major defeat

The al-Qaeda linked Jabhat al-Nusra (al-Nusra Front) has delivered a stinging defeat to the U.S.-trained Free Syrian Army Division 30, just days after it entered the battlefield for the first time. Of the 50-60 man division, seven men, including three of the group’s leaders, were captured and taken prisoner on Wednesday of last week by al-Nusra. On Friday, al-Nusra killed one more man, and wounded 8 others. Then on Monday of this week, five more men were captured.

In June of last year, the Obama administration announced a program costing $500 million, later increased to $1.1 billion, to train 5,000 “moderate” rebel fighters per year in Syria to fight the so-called Islamic State (IS or ISIS or ISIL or Daesh).

However, last month, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter was asked by Congress how many of the 5,000 had been trained in the last year, and he answered that only 60 had been trained.

Those 60 trained rebels made up the Free Syrian Army Division 30, the division that was decimated by al-Nusra in a series of attacks in the past week, putting the viability of the division and of the entire rebel-training program into question.

According to reports, the attacks by al-Nusra were a surprise to the American military, because they believed that al-Nusra would “welcome Division 30 as an ally in its fight against the Islamic State.”

In fact, after last Friday’s fighting, Division 30 put this statement on its Facebook page: “Division 30’s command calls, for the second time, on our brothers in Jabhat al-Nusra to cease these actions, preserve the blood of Muslims and protect unity.” However, that was followed by the new al-Nusra attack on Monday. Guardian (London) and Middle East Eye and Vox

US program to train rebels in Syria appears flawed from the start

On Wednesday, the BBC World Service broadcast an interview with Captain Ammar al-Wawi, one of the remaining survivors of Division 30. My transcription:

How come Daesh was created in a very short time, 6 to 12 months, then fights the entire world in Iraq and Syria, and occupies 50% of both Syria and Iraq with no international support, but this plan backed by many countries, trains only 54 fighters in 6 months?

The Americans are ready to train and form a national army of 15,000 fighters, and they say they’re ready to back it financially and militarily. In addition to the air cover.

The truth is that in the six months only 60 fighters have been trained, so if only 60 fighters get trained every 6 months, we’ll need decades to train 15,000.

The BBC also spoke to Robert Ford, the US Ambassador to Syria until last year, and was asked whether the rebel training program is off to a bad start (my transcription):

Yes, it’s a terrible start, it’s an awful start. The program from the beginning had a serious structural problems. The entire vision of the program made little sense, when they insisted that the fighters the Americans would train pledge — in writing no less — that they would only fight the Islamic State, and never fight the Assad regime, even though, as your correspondent mentioned, the Assad regime has been fighting them for four years, killing far, far, far more Syrians than the Islamic State ever did, as awful as the Islamic State is. …

Second problem is – the Americans didn’t have a good sense before they started as to whether or not they would provide close air support, and there were the delays that you talked about. …

And the bigger problem, though, really is, will people that the United States trains, but who pledge to fight only IS — will they be viewed as loyal patriotic Syrians fighting in this horrible civil war by the other groups, or will they be viewed as American stooges, and basically as an American fifth column, and therefore, they will be more or less on their own all the time? …

You’re not going to be able to bomb the Islamic State into oblivion. We’ve just had stories based out of American intelligence sources earlier this week on the AP that American intelligence estimates that the IS basically replaced all of their casualties from American bombing with new recruits during the past year.

Right now, the $1.1 billion Obama administration program to train “moderate” Syrian rebels to fight ISIS appears to be collapsing, and it’s not clear if the administration is able to do anything to save it. BBC

KEYS: Generational Dynamics, Libya, France, Calais, Mediterranean, Italy, Greece, The Jungle, Syria, Free Syrian Army, Division 30, Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Nusra Front, Islamic State / of Iraq and Syria/Sham/the Levant, IS, ISIS, ISIL, Daesh, Ash Carter, Ammar al-Wawi, Robert Ford
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